ZERO TOLERANCE FOR FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM)
“I didn’t know I was incomplete until I needed the whole of me to function” said Christianah, one of the women we talked to during our survey on FGM in Lagos. Christianah is a young banker who was brought up in a Christian home and got married a year ago, but her eagerness for the marriage union became sour when she discovered some important part of her were missing. After medical examination, she asked her aged mother who admitted to have circumcised Christianah as a baby because it was a traditional rite in her village. Unlike male circumcision that is very obvious, female circumcision isn’t obvious and rarely talked about. Many women and girls like Christianah are unaware that they have gone through mutilation and may never know till death.
What is FGM Female Genital Mutilation is a painful procedure that involves altering the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights, the health and the integrity of girls and women. It is also referred to as female circumcision and is widely described as injurious to the total wellbeing of victims because the procedure is often unsafe and unhealthy, especially because it is done with crude tools and without anesthetics to dull the pain. Girls who undergo #FGM often face short and long-term consequences for their sexual and reproductive health, and mental health.
There are 4 classes of #FGM based on the severity of mutilation. Type I - involves the removal of the hood of the clitoris and all or part of the clitoris. Type II- is a more severe and it involves the removal of the clitoris along with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type III- (infibulation) is the most severe form of FGM. It involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and adjacent medial part of the labia majora and the stitching of the vaginal orifice, leaving an opening of the size of a pin head to allow for menstrual flow or urine. Type IV or other unclassified types recognized by include introcision and gishiri cuts, pricking, piercing, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia, scraping and/or cutting of the vagina (angrya cuts), stretching the clitoris and/or labia, cauterization, the introduction of corrosive substances and herbs in the vagina, and other forms.
Dangers of FGM
· Short-term complications such as severe pain, shock, damage to anus or urethra, difficulty in passing urine, infections and excessive bleeding that may lead to death.
· Long-term effects can include reproductive issues such as acquired gynatresia resulting in hematocolpos, vulva adhesions and disfiguration, dysmenorrhea, retention cysts, and sexual difficulties with anorgasmia, obstetric complications and sexual dysfunction, risks during childbirth, as well as mental and psychological agony etc.
Why is it practiced
In most cultures across Africa, Asia and Middle East, FGM is termed a rite of womanhood and practiced as a form of purity culture to inhibit the woman from having sexual desires in the future. It is believed that a woman should remain pure and untouched until marriage, therefore her female genital is cut at a very young age to avoid any sexual urge that may lead to promiscuity before she is married. The danger of this is that such cultures expect that a woman’s function is only to birth and nurture children and should have no need to enjoy the process of making these babies. Also, it absolves their male partners of sexual responsibilities and holds females accountable for acts such as rape and teenage pregnancies. In 2016, Egyptian MP, Elhamy Aghina, said women must accept #FGM to control their sexual urges because Egyptian men are ‘sexually weak’. Other myths that surround the reason for #FGM is the untruth that clitoral covering will kill a baby during childbirth, and that FGM will eradicate any kind of possible bacterial infection. These are untrue and cannot be scientifically proven.
Where is it practiced It is quite alarming to realize that in 2021, #FGM is still being practiced all over the world, especially in third world countries. In Nigeria, this practice is very prevalent across all states but the statistics is difficult to acquire because it is a hidden practice not often talked about. This practice cuts across literate and illiterate individuals both in the city and villages. Many educated adults still honor their cultural rites at the expense of their child and sometimes people take their daughters from the cities for FGM in the village.
How to stop it
As we continue to advocate for a law to stop #FGM, we cannot overemphasize the importance of sensitization, especially in rural and underserved communities. It is crucial for parents especially mothers, birthing attendants, midwives, religious leaders, community leaders, teachers and persons of influence in the communities to be convinced of the dangers of #FGM. The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is observed every 6th of February with the aim to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice. ProjectASHA has created a safe space for survivors of FGM and also supported women suffering from obstetric fistula in our campaign for universal healthcare for Nigerian women. And we will continue to support survivors and educate parents about the dangers of FGM to ensure total wellbeing of the girl-child is feasible for equality.